A year ago, Duke was upset by Wake Forest in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils then went on to reach their first ever NCAA title game, falling to Stanford 1-0.
Now 12 months removed from a championship game berth, Duke will try to reach the College Cup following a loss to the Demon Deacons in the conference tournament, with both earning No. 3 seeds in the field of 64.
“I’m definitely super excited,” junior defender Natasha Anasi said. “I feel like we haven’t played in a really long time, since our game against Wake [Forest]. Everyone’s just jacked up and ready to play.”
The Blue Devils (12-5-2) will take on Loyola of Maryland in their first round matchup this Saturday at Koskinen Stadium. The selection marks the 19th time in school history that Duke has received an NCAA bid.
Players and coaches alike are excited to play again, even against a Greyhound squad that the Blue Devils know very little about.
“I actually know nothing about them,” senior defender Erin Koballa said. “I’m excited to play them—a nameless, faceless opponent. I’m just ready to go after it.”
The loudest reaction from Duke may have come later in the NCAA selection broadcast, when it was announced that Virginia would also be competing in their quarter of the bracket. Nine ACC teams made the tournament, led by first-seeded Florida State.
Players stressed that their primary focus is on their first round matchup, but they would not mind playing the Cavaliers later in the tournament, a potential quarterfinal showdown.
“Every team in the ACC is a rival,” Koballa said. “UVA is just such a good team and such comparable systems. It’s a great matchup.”
When Duke takes the field Saturday, it will be the first time the team will have played competitively in nearly two weeks. However, according to senior midfielder Nicole Lipp, the Blue Devils will have no problem shaking off the rust.
“We had a scrimmage on Friday and played a full 60 minutes,” Lipp said. “I think we’ve been able to stay really competitive in practice and we’ve simulated game- like situations pretty well.”
Since the team lost to Wake Forest, a number of players picked up conference accolades. Ranking fifth in the nation with 11 assists, Cassie Pecht was named the ACC Freshman of the Year. Junior forward Laura Weinberg earned first-team All-ACC honors while teammates Natasha Anasi and Kim DeCesare picked up second-team honors. Weinberg and DeCesare have paced the team’s attack, combining for 27 goals on the season.
But after a week of only practice, Koballa is ready to finally get back on the field for one last shot at an NCAA title.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday already,” Koballa said. “I think we have a great bracket. Hopefully we’ll make it all the way to where we were last year and further.”